AN­I­MAL WIS­DOM

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - VIC­TO­RIA NU­GENT

A CON­SER­VA­TION­IST who has been stalked by lions and charged by ele­phants has shared words of wis­dom with stu­dents at her alma mater.

Zool­o­gist Tam­mie Mat­son grad­u­ated from St Pa­trick’s Col­lege in 1993 and she re­turned to the school yes­ter­day as the guest speaker at the Women’s Ca­reer Net­work break­fast.

Dr Mat­son was just 15 when she vis­ited Zim­babwe with her fa­ther, in­spir­ing her to be­come a wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ist in Africa by the age of 21.

“That first trip really just opened my eyes and I fell in love with Africa,” she said.

She went back to vol­un­teer dur­ing her gap year, prompt­ing her to change her plan to study law to pur­sue life as a wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ist.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, she went back to Zim­babwe, win­ning a PhD schol­ar­ship to study the black- faced im­pala.

When the na­tion grew volatile, she re­lo­cated to Namibia.

Over the course of her ca­reer Dr Mat­son has helped ra­dio- col­lar desert ele­phants, taught English at a small African pri­mary school and worked to re­duce hu­man- ele­phant con­flict among the San Bush­men in north­east Namibia.

Dr Mat­son said her ca­reer had taught her a lot about fear.

“A few years ago I was in Botswana, which has the largest ele­phant pop­u­la­tion in the world,” she said.

“I was work­ing with a sa­fari com­pany and I had a group of women in the car with me. We saw this big bull ele­phant ... we’d just turned the car off. He came to­wards us and reached us within about five steps.”

Dr Mat­son said the ele­phant be­gan to lean on the front of the car and push down on the bon­net.

“We couldn’t start the car be­cause that might have scared him and that could have ac­tu­ally pro­voked some anger,” she said. “Then he sort of reached his trunk around and it was very close to my arm. I could ac­tu­ally feel the hot air on my arm.”

It isn’t the only close en­counter Dr Mat­son has had with wildlife, ac­ci­den­tally com­ing be­tween a group of lionesses and their kill as a 21- year- old.

“Hav­ing fear is just a nat­u­ral part of life in the an­i­mal king­dom,” she said. “You have to re­move feel­ing of fear and re­spond in a way that saves your life.”

Af­ter mov­ing to Sin­ga­pore in 2012, Dr Mat­son co- founded the Let Ele­phants Be Ele­phants cam­paign in South- East Asia to raise aware­ness of the con­nec­tion be­tween the poach­ing of ele­phants and the de­mand for ivory in Asia.

She now lives in Cairns with her hus­band, Andy Ri­d­ley, the found­ing CEO of Cit­i­zens of the Great Bar­rier Reef, and their two sons, Solo, 7, and Shep, 3.

Dr Mat­son runs her own sa­fari busi­ness, which means she re­turns to Africa reg­u­larly.

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